Spine and Sport: Are Athlete's Back Injuries Different?

Dr. Julia Alleyne, BHSc(PT), MD, CCFP, Dip. Sport Med MScCH,

Family Physician practising Sport and Exercise Medicine at the Toronto Rehabilitation Institute, University Health Network. She is appointed at the University of Toronto, Department of Family and Community Medicine as an Associate Clinical Professor.


Abstract: Athletes participating in training and competition for an average of 8 hours a week have a one year prevalence for spine injuries as high as 68%; an average increase of 18-31% compared to non-athletes. Except for young growing athletes at risk for structural deformity, most spine injuries are soft tissue and self-limiting. Risk factors include a sudden increase in training hours, transition in strength and coordination related to growth, sustained back flexion, reduced dynamic core stability and repetitive trunk rotation and hyper extension. Decreased training levels following back injury lead to deconditioning and muscle imbalance increasing the risk of recurrence and prolonging recovery. Core stability testing can identify patients for targeted exercise.
Key Words: Sport-related, spine, hypermobility, core stability, overuse.

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Frequent repetition and sustained postures in rotation, hyperextension and full flexion require advanced levels of strength and flexibility for the athlete to remain injury-free.
The two most common risk factors for low back pain in training athletes is overuse strain and excessive spinal movements.
Treatment consists of both reducing the demands on the paraspinal muscles and increasing the amount of core stability.
It is important to screen for generalized joint hypermobility syndrome (JHS) affecting all joints using the Beighton Score, as this condition may require investigation and can be an indication of other medical syndromes.
The most specific test with high inter-rater reliability to determine core stability is the single leg standing balance stork test. The patient stands on one leg and raises the other knee to 90 degrees then maintains balance for a minimum of 25 seconds.
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